Arthur Doyle, took the avant-garde to the outer limits, but very little survives from his ground-breaking days. Until now. His first group, a trio, was created in 1972 with Charles Stephens on trombone and Rashied Sinan on drums. This CDR is dedicated to the memory of Charles, a schoolboy-friend of Arthur's who passed away in 2005.
"A welcome discovery" Michael Rosenstein
"This is possibly the best session I've ever heard" Fergus Cullen
ALABAMA SOUL INTERVIEW WITH ROY MORRIS
RM: How did you get into music ?
AD: I was first inspired by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to play music. They was some of the first faces I saw on television and had records by. When I was a kid, I wanted to write Satchmo and ask him to send me a horn so I could play and sing like him.
I heard a lot of music around my house. My father would get his pay check on Friday and always buy one or two records, mostly soul music. And there was also the radio. And there was a lot of jazz in Birmingham, that I got hip to later. There was this lady called Thereline that had a few thousand records of all the jazz artists. She cut hair on Sunday. I would go to her house around nine o'clock and stay to around six or seven o'clock getting my hair cut and listening to records.
The sound of the saxophone fascinated me. As a kid it was something about that instrument's sound that stuck in my head. The popular music in my neighbourhood at that time was soul music. But there was a few peoples like Thereline, and Otto Ford that was into jazz.
The first time I heard Trane was on the records 'Milestones' and 'KInd Of Blue' by Miles Davis, and I knew that was the way the saxophone could sound. My brother Carserlo went to college before I did and he came back with records by Sonny Rollins. That was the first time I heard of him.
My first love was alto saxophone. We called it the lady of saxophones, and I wanted a man's horn. That's why I changed to tenor saxophone.
My first gig as a musician was with Walter Miller and Otto Ford at a place called 'Four D.Jones', and it paid six dollars. I was around fifteen or sixteen years' old. I don't know what happened to Otto Ford. I left and went on the road with bands after I finished college. I don't know what happened to him, his mother died and too many years have passed. I would go to his mother's house, and she would tell me how to get in touch with him. The last time I saw him was in 1967. I didn't know, until I went to New York, that Walter Miller played with Sun Ra, just that he played with Ray Charles. I don't know if people was hip to Sun Ra then, but later he played Birmingham and became a big star there.
RM: You went to Tennessee State University.
I found studying in Nashville very interesting. There was people around like Dr. T.J. Anderson and Louis Smith. I studied with them. There was a lot of jazz clubs there, and jazz musicians around. One of the musicians was from Detroit and he founded a band. His name was Aaron Neal. It had people in it like Bob Reid, Frank Walton and myself. We played in the public school system, and at places like Fisk University. We was very revolutionary and took a lot of gigs in the Black movement, and played a lot of clubs playing free jazz.
RM: Then you went to Detroit.
AD: This was my first trip up north. I found Detroit a very dull and backward place. All of the young kids wanted to be pimps and get their hair fixed, and drive a big car. There is always another side to the revolutionary side. I found somewhat a jazz scene. People like Aaron Neal who I was living with for a time. There was Charles Moore, Leon Henderson, Joe's brother, I worked a few gigs with. Then I got tired of that scene and I went back to Nashville. Went on the road with a rhythm and blues band, that carried me to Boston. I left the band and went to New York in 1967. I first went to New York in the summer of 1964, looking for work while I was still in school. A summer job. I went to Birdland to hear Miles Davis and other musicians.
RM: When did you get into the New Music ?
AD: I played bop first. I only played rhythm and blues when I was in college to make money to help me along. My first love was bop, I was a pretty good bop player if I say so myself. I became aware of the changes in the music around 1966. Aaron heard Coltrane and Pharoah in Detroit and came back to Nashville talking about them. He had heard them in Detroit at a club. And he had records of Eric Dolphy. But I was playing bop at that time. I did not want to give up all the music I had learned at bop to play free jazz. But little by little I made the move.
RM: Did it feel like it connected to the whole Black consciousness feeling of the time ?
AD: I feel it all went hand in hand, the free jazz movement and people wanting to be free.
RM: And Vietnam ?
AD: The only time I got caught up in the Vietnam war was not to go. Because I feel as my fight was with trying to free Black people. All of this had an effect on me as a man and as a musician. The children killed in a church in Alabama, and the killing of civil rights workers. Dr. King and Malcolm X.
RM: How did you meet Milford Graves ?
AD: A friend of mine was in uptown New York. His name was Leroy Wilson and he saw Milford Graves on the street. He said he knew some people from Nashville playing music like him. Milford gave Leroy his number and told me to call him. I did call him and went to his house. That is how it all got started. We rehearsed the music a lot, about once a week on Sunday at Milford's house, until we could think as one. The musicians that worked with Milford was very good and strong. The people in the movement in Harlem was listening to what we called the New Black Music.
Milford was playing in the community, outside the jazz world, but the scene seemed to disappear, and the musicians along with it.
I think now Hugh Glover is out of music and working a day gig. he had a few children and wife. The last I heard of Joe Rigby, he was working with rhythm and blues bands, and Arthur Williams is also working a day gig and playing sometime. And Frank Lowe. I know I was one of his influences. He told me how much he dig my playing back in 1972 when we used to hang out together around about the time of the New York Musicians Organisation jazz festival. I didn't play with him in Milford Graves' band but I did play with him in other bands. I haven't seen Frank in a while.
But Milford found his own way. Milford has his survival together. He has his own record company, gives lessons at his house. Gives concerts there, sells herbs and teaches.
RM: You called your unique sound the "voice-a-phone".
AD: The voice-a-phone is something that happened by accident. I had this reed on that was too soft, and my voice came through my saxophone. I liked the sound, so I began singing and playing at the same time. I hadn't heard Dewey Redman until later, but I had heard Roland Kirk. They was not an influence on me. My invention began accidentally. Pharoah Sanders was an influence on me. I had a few records by him. I also went to Slug's to hear him play a few times. Plus with Milford we played opposite him a few times. Milford Graves showed an interest in my sound, along with Sun Ra, Dave Burrell, Bill Dixon, and Noah Howard. Frank Wright was a good friend of mine. We played in New York together, and in Paris. Sometimes in Noah Howard's apartment in Paris we would sit down and talk music.
RM: In 1972 you formed your first group with Rashied Sinan on drums, and Charles Stephens on trombone.
AD: Charles Stephens and I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama together. We went to the same high school so we have been playing together for a while.
RM: Did you have much to do with the lofts ?
AD: Only the beginning and the end of the loft scene. I was one of the first to play Studio Rivbea, and I played in Ali's Alley and the Brook, where I recorded 'Alabama Feeling'. I first met Charles Tyler when I rented the Brook to do the record for my DRA productions.We became friends after that. 'Alabama Feeling' was my band although it was almost the same band I was working in with Ahmed Abdullah.
I worked as a case worker for the Department of Welfare for a few years. Then I found other ways of making money. I liked teaching in Bennington the little while I was there, but it is not something I would like to do all my life. It is okay for a while, but I like to play as much as I can on the jazz scene. I am trying to get my survival together. I still teach music in Endicott, in the public school system. I don't get much of an opportunity to play up here. I just sub-teach here. I have my own record company plus I also produce concerts.
I had a brother that lived upstate New York. I visited him a few times and I liked it. At that time the rat race of the city was getting next to me. Just the day to day surviving, and I wanted a change. So I moved up there and got a day gig, and just practiced and wrote music. I must say I still like the big city, and I plan on living in New York or Paris again.
RM: You went to Paris in 1980.
AD: I first got the idea of going to Paris when Noah Howard went in 1969 or 1970. I found Paris very different from the New York scene. People was friendly, let you in their house, do anything for you because you was a musician. Talk to you, and they love musicians and music.
RM: Then you vanished.
AD: When I disappeared from the scene, I was in jail in France. I spent five years trying to prove my innocence, which I did in 1988. I spent from 1983 to 1988 in jail. Then I took two years off to get myself back in the frame of mind to play again.
I returned back to the scene in 1992 at the gig with Rudolph Grey at CBGB's, although I was trying to do things upstate before then. The reaction was very good when I came back to the city to play with Rudolph. People showed up and wanted me to sign my record. And the place was packed with people. The Cooler was the same. I also did a concert at New York University with my own band, which consisted of Rudolph Grey, Tom Surgal and William Parker. Nice crowd and a good response.
I think the scene has gone backward from where Trane and other people left it. But there are people like Cecil, Milford, Rudolph, Gayle and myself still playing at that level. The big problem is they (other musicians) never played bop or rhythm and blues, then they go as far as they can (toward) playing free jazz. then they discover bop changes and blues and want to learn to play that. But people like Rudolph, Gayle and myself have already played that and do not want to go back. And also the concert and record producers don't want it (free jazz).
RM: Has your music changed at all ?
AD: I have modified my music somewhat, where in the past I was only playing those things that was on the cover of 'Alabama Feeling' (a new way of notating the music) because that was what Milford wanted. But now I am playing scales, chords, melody, and singing. I practice about four or five hours a week. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I listen to all music, mostly jazz but also soul and blues because I like all music. I plan to sing more and do more recordings and concerts. I am working on doing two records, one with Rudolph Grey as the Blue Humans, and the other with my own band. If I do the record with my band, it will have in it Rashied Ali, Charles Stephens, Richard Williams (the bass player known as Radu) and Rudolph Grey. Some of the other musicians I would most like to play with if I could choose any-one, maybe Milford Graves, George Brown, Beaver Harris, Wilber Morris, William Parker, Arthur Williams, Ahmed Abdullah. Don Pullen, Dave Burrell. I have also written a string quartet, with guitar and saxophone. This was for Silkheart records. I don't know what they are doing. I may not make many tours, but I do sell records and I do work in New York.
RM: Is the protest still there ?
AD: There's still protest in my music because things haven't really changed that much. In my singing and playing there is still protest.
RM: What are your interests outside playing ?
AD: Cooking health food, and listening to music. playing handball and looking at baseball and basketball. I like boxing too.
RM: Are you religious ?
AD: Very religious.
This interview with Roy Morris took place between 1994 and 1995
ARTHUR DOYLE OBITUARY
Arthur Roy Doyle was born in Birmingham, Alabama on June 26, 1944, the second of five children to Arthur Lee and Margaret. He was attracted to jazz music early, after seeing Louis Armstrong on TV. His parents saved hard to get him a saxophone for his twelth birthday, and he learnt the basics from an old friend of his father's called Otto Ford.
Arthur jobbed around, playing mostly rhythm and blues gigs, but also bebop whenever he got the chance. He tested the scene in Nashville and Detroit before eventually landing in New York in 1967.
Soon after he arrived, he met the revolutionary drummer Milford Graves. Arthur's raucous, rough-hewn sound was exactly what Milford was looking for. He put together a group with Arthur, saxophonists Joe Rigby and Hugh Glover, and trumpeter Arthur Williams. They were outside the commercial jazz scene but very much part of the Black Nationalist mood of the time. The group performed mostly in Harlem and Brooklyn, to rapturous receptions. Arthur had left bebop far behind, and was playing with a boiling intensity barely contained or controlled. His was music of unparalleled ferocity, his sound instantly recognisable from the very first note.
In 1968, Arthur also began to play with alto saxophonist Noah Howard. While Milford's group remained un-documented, Noah made a record called 'The Black Ark' which has become one of the seminal, if little-heard, gospels of the New Music.
1972 proved a critical year for Arthur. He worked with the New York Musicians Organisation in putting together a 9 day-long alternative to the mainstream Newport in New York Festival. Its success signalled the beginnings of the so-called 'Loft Jazz' era. Arthur introduced his own group, a trio with Charles Stephens on trombone and Rashied Sinan on drums. Fortunately, a live recording of 'Nature Boy' survives on Homeboy Music cdr. Arthur's uniquely uncompromising sound, an unremitting scream on both tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, with a little flute thrown in, was finally out there. But before he could make any real impact, he suffered a nervous breakdown. It was around 1975 before Arthur felt strong enough to play again.
By then, Milford Graves was down to just a duo with Hugh Glover and was happy to welcome Arthur back to the fold. He released a live recording in 1976 on his own IPS label. Although impossibly rare, Babi Music is another corner-stone of the New Music legacy.
After a few gigs in 1977 with Ahmed Abdullah, Arthur put his own group back together and recorded them at the Brook, Charles Tyler's loft, releasing the music on Charles' own Ak-Ba label. 'Alabama Feeling' showed the New Music just about as far out as can be, yet touched with a bottomless deep blue soul feeling, close to the roots of all Black music.
Unfortunately the lofts were beginning to close down, with opportunities few and far between. Arthur left the scene for a day job in upstate New York. Rudolph Grey, a young iconoclastic guitarist invited him to join his duo with Beaver Harris. They called themselves the Blue Humans and Grey got them gigs in rock venues like CBGB's, Hurrah, and Tier3. Their mix of free jazz and searing electricity formed the most extreme edge of the short-lived 'No Wave' rock phenomenom. A brilliant snap-shot of their sonic collision emerged years later as 'Blue Humans Live 1980 NY' on Audible Hiss. They played to great acclaim, but there wasn't much work and Arthur left for Paris late in 1980. He discovered a more sympathetic scene there, stopping for six months before returning home to Alabama.
But there was no work, so it was back to Paris. A little trio with Fuji and George Brown, a few gigs with Alan Silva, then Arthur disappeared from the jazz world for the best part of ten years. Eventually he re-appeared in New York, and with the help of Rudolph Grey and another radical rock guitarist, Thurston Moore, Arthur was back on the scene. The music was as fierce as ever, and he had introduced a new instrument, his voice ! As the 90's progressed, there were more of Arthur's vocals, which cannot easily be described, and less of his saxophone, probably because he no longer had the physical strength to play as he had before.
There was a new version of the Blue Humans with Rudolph Grey, then the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, a few solo gigs, and a well-received Japanese tour. In 1999 he returned to Paris, but the scene had changed for the worse. There was an occasional gig with Sunny Murray. And one recording in particular, 'The Basement Tapes' was made in 2001 with Dan Warburton on violin and Edward Perraud on drums, and incorporated all Arthur's varied approaches to the music to best effect.
He remained the most outside of outside musicians, emerging occasionally from his mother's home to appear with various young musicians inspired by his originality. Despite poor health, Arthur took every opportunity to play, visiting Europe in 2011, and recording for the Portuguese Soopa label.
In 2012, he managed three dates in New York, New Orleans, and Birmingham, featuring in a virtually unseen movie 'The Life, Love & Hate of a Free Jazz Man and his Woman'.
Back in the day, a saxophone equivalent to Jackson Pollock, latterly closer to Ellsworth Kelly with a little Andy Warhol thrown in. In the 21st. century, Arthur Doyle's music was still shocking, and still shocked those who heard it.
Arthur Doyle died on January 24th., 2014. He is survived by his mother Margaret, sister Debra, and brothers Carserlo and Larry.